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Storied Dragon of Chinatown

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Monday, February 02, 2009, at 04:23PM
Chinatown Dragon Ed Fuentes

Actress Nancy Kwan rode at the front of a colorful caravan on Saturday, serving as Grand Marshall for the annual Golden Dragon Chinese New Year Parade. Behind her came dragons and lions dancing for prosperity and health as they celebrated Chinese New Year 4707, the year of the Ox.

The ritual dates back to 200 B.C. in China, and has been part of Downtown for at least 110 years.

To create a romantic sense of place, city boosters in 1894 used the region's Spanish history as a theme to stage La Fiesta de Los Angeles. It first ran from April 9 - 14, with the Merchants' Association hoping the carnival would attract East Coast visitors attending The California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894, being held in San Francisco.

Along with one parade that showed off floats decorated with flowers -- taking a cue from the then four-year-old Tournament of Roses Parade -- the festival held athletic events, a costume ball carnival, and a main parade that was joined by the city's ethnic groups riding on floats.

This early version of the city celebrating multi-culturalism –– despite each culture being enclaved –– was a success and continued for ten years.

“We constructed and made out of what is now Pershing Square a coliseum, encircling the park with seats ten tiers high," Fiesta founder Max Meyberg told the Los Angeles Times in 1931. "All of our parades circled around this park, which was beautifully decorated with flags and banners with a throne in the park for the queen and her court, reviewing the parades."

The festival ran for ten years and was later briefly restaged, beginning in 1931 to mark the city's 150th birthday.

Beginning of a Chinatown Tradition

In his 2004 book “Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of Its Mexican Past”, William Deverell wrote that the main parade in 1896 was even more elaborate. "Three hundred United States Marines, anchored just off the coast aboard the man-of-war Philadelphia, marched alongside members of the California National Guard, the Spanish caballeros, and squadrons of local police."

While Deverell states 1896 was the year the Chinese Merchants Association borrowed a dragon from Marysville, California--where a large Chinese-American community were left from California's Gold Rush––The Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles records it as 1898.

Either way, the tradition of the Los Angeles Chinese community continued in style this past weekend, as the Golden Dragon chased the sun down North Broadway.

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